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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mental masturbation in the Pagan community...

Mental masturbation in the Pagan community...

"Between blind faith and critical thinking, I'll take critical thinking any day."

That's a quote that I've heard no less than 4 times this week and it's only Wednesday.  I happen to agree with it.

There was a time when (generally speaking) the Pagan community didn't do much critical thinking and we're happy to take any old story or myth as if it were proven fact. Many personal opinions, articles, blogs, etc. were (seemingly) entirely based on myths and urban legends.  Critical thinking was something that was for "scholars", not spiritual people.  (GROAN)

Over the past few years, I've (happily) seen a trend in the Pagan community to draw from more scholarly resources. People have been willing and even enthusiastic to re-examine their personal beliefs and commonly held myths or stories in a new, more scholarly, light and have actively been looking for verification or confirmation to deepen their understanding of their practice and the history of the Pagan community/movement.

I was overjoyed at that turn of events, I can tell you.  I am no scholar or academic but I see a strong benefit for turning to independent sources to confirm, especially when there is interaction with folks outside the Pagan community and critical thinking and analysis can go a long way to deepening our understanding of ourselves, where we came from, and where we're going.

However, can critical thinking be taken too far?  From what I've experienced on Pagan message boards in the past week, I'd have to say, yes.

It seems that there is a new trend on some of the boards that I frequent is to *over analyze* and critique every little thing down to the smallest detail. I've seen what were otherwise intelligent and practical discussions degenerate into nothing more than mental masturbation.  You know, where the purpose is to argue rather than discuss.  Where the predominant theme changes to "needing to define what is valid based on X, Y, or Z source" and then devolving further to analyzing "whether X, Y, or Z can even be considered valid sources".  I've seen that generate pages and pages of people arguing over which source should be the authoritative source with which to judge the original question... if the original question can even be remembered... and who can contribute based on what they are basing their *personal opinion* on.  That's the thing about personal opinions - they're personal.

It's one thing if the purpose is to have a scholarly discussion in order to resolve an issue. It's another to use the guise of scholarly research and critical thinking to AVOID doing the work that the discussion is regarding or (gasp!) using it as a strawman to uncharitably invalidate another person's point of view.

Sometime, you just have to get your ass out of that armchair and EXPERIENCE something BEFORE trying to analyze it. (Hint, that's where the Mystery comes into it.)

It's all well and good to discuss and analyze things like "who or what are the Gods", "is this practice historically accurate", "what if any practical benefits/changes does this accomplish", etc.  However, all the critical thinking in the world is a poor substitute when it is used *in place of* actually having an experience.

I still believe that "Between blind faith and critical thinking, I'll take critical thinking any day".  However, I prefer to experience things and suspend dis-belief *first*. Then tackle the experience afterwards with a critical eye to better understand it.

Remember, when working with magic, spirituality, and religion, there is a quality of the ineffable.
Ineffable - "incapable of being expressed in words : indescribable"

So, PLEASE make critical thinking a part of your practice without losing the sense of enchantment and magic and *PLEASE* get your ass out of that chair and EXPERIENCE.

Pfew, glad I got that off my chest!

Ciao e benedizioni a tutti,

---Vincenzo

Monday, January 14, 2013

Stregoneria and Hoodoo

Ciao a tutti,

I think that it's important to never stop learning.  That's one of the reasons that I've (lately) been looking into Hoodoo practices.

Wikipedia says:
"Hoodoo, also known as conjure, is a form of predominantly African-American traditional folk magic that developed from the syncretism of a number of separate cultures and magical traditions. It incorporates practices from African and Native American traditions, as well as some European magical practices and grimoires. While folk practices like hoodoo are trans-cultural phenomena, what is particularly innovative in this tradition is the "remarkably efficacious use of biblical figures" in its practices and in the lives of its practitioners."

When I started to look closely at the *structure* of the magical practices and operations of Hoodoo, I noticed a startling similarity to the structure and practices of Stregoneria (witchcraft as a system(s) of magical practice(s) derived from Italic cultures).  I suppose that it should have come as a surprise that there appear to be so many similarities.  Many of the American-Italic immigrant practices of folk-magic also use the saints and other cultural icons to add flavor and oomph to their magic.

Another quote regarding Hoodoo from Wikipedia is:
"The goal of hoodoo is to allow people access to supernatural forces to improve their daily lives by gaining power in many areas of life, including luck, money, love, divination, revenge, health, employment, and necromancy. As in many other religious, magical, and medical folk practices, extensive use is made of herbs, minerals, parts of animals' bodies, an individual's possessions, and bodily fluids, especially menstrual blood, urine and semen. Contact with ancestors or other spirits of the dead is an important practice within the conjure tradition, and the recitation of Psalms from the Bible is also considered magically effective in hoodoo. Due to hoodoo's great emphasis on an individual's magical power, its basic principles of working are generally felt to be easily adapted for use, based on one's desires, inclinations and habits."

I normally refer to Stregheria being the *Pagan, religious* practice of Witchcraft and magic derived from the Italic cultures while Stregoneria as witchcraft as a system(s) of magical practice(s) derived from Italic cultures.  In a way, Stregoneria can almost be seen as the "Hoodoo of the Mediterranean".

I'm no expert on Hoodoo but it seems that it is predominantly structured with a very heavy gloss of Christianity.  Stregoneria also shares this trait.  The closer I look at these practices, the easier it is to see the "Pagan view" just below the surface.  Many of these practices would seem effective no matter what gloss is overlaid on the magical procedure(s). Culturally, that has been Christianity - partially just because that's the way it is. Partially because the predominent cultural view in this country is some version of Christianity so "clients" are more at ease with magic and the supernatural when coated with glamour with which they are familiar.

I've met a number of Hoodoo practitioners for whom the "gloss" of Christianity is intregal to their worldview. I've also met some who feel that the gloss is just that and is primarily for the clients peace of mind while the practitioners themselves may have very different religious or spiritual outlooks that has nothing to do with Christianity. It's something that I hope to look closer into.

Do you have any personal experience or training in Hoodoo?  If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  I think that paths of Hoodoo and Stregoneria have some amazing similarities.

Ciao,

---Vincenzo

Monday, January 7, 2013

Welcome 2013!

Wow, I just realized that I haven't posted a blog in over a month.  Things have been busy here.  That's not an excuse, just an explanation.

Like everyone else, I have some goals for 2013.  My main goal is to work better, not work harder.  I'm going to consolidate my social media presence and start using programs like HootSuite. The idea is that I will consolidate announcements and only post in one place while having them go out to the various pages on the different sites.

I also hope to write more, both here on my blog as well as become more active in the social boards.

On a personal note, I plan on doing a lot more of "magical item creations" such as charm bags, spell candles, and such.  Doing the "crafty" things has always been a fond past time of mine.  Perhaps I'll even offer that as a service to clients - personally crafted magical items to help with goals and spell work.

Welcome 2013!

---Vincenzo